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The Best of the Off Ramp

Sometimes boaters have a bad day at the ramp. All of the time, there's a lesson to be learned.

Boat Laying Sideways on the Boat Ramp

Northport, Michigan Boat Ramp

My mother has grown up with boats and my father has always deferred to her skills when on the water as well as at the ramp. So when we drove to a boat ramp a few years ago in Michigan, all of us knew what to expect when mom got behind the wheel to back the trailer into the water. There would be looks from people expecting to see a problem. I grew up with those stares and always enjoyed the complete disbelief when mom would maneuver around good ol' boys to launch and then offer her assistance which was always declined.

Well, last summer her assistance was accepted when two guys had backed their trailer so that it was parallel to the water and kept trying to correct it instead of being smart and starting over, Mom launched our boat in the next lane and stopped to offer guidance to the guys and they graciously accepted. She told them to start over and the driver said he didn't need to do that. She said then she couldn't help and parked the truck and trailer and walked back down to the dock where my dad and I were holding the boat. The two guys had moved the trailer up against a concrete wall by now and even more people were watching. Sensing defeat, the driver (finally) asked my mom if she could get him straightened out and she got in the cab, pulled the boat up the ramp, put it in reverse and backed down the ramp putting the boat and trailer in the water perfectly. She got out and the man thanked her with a hug and these words: "The problem with being a guy is having an ego bigger than your brain." We've stayed in touch and she reminds my dad about this whenever there's a family argument.

– D. Stinson Dayton Ohio

Lake Ida West Park, Florida

Last summer my wife and I took some friends from Utah on their first boat ride. We had a terrific time despite the fact so many people seem to be clueless about the way a boat should be operated. My friend, who is a devout Mormon heard two boaters cursing each other as we motored to the boat ramp and mentioned "they need some religion." I told him they need some etiquette too and he agreed. When we were back at the ramp, both boaters came in and docked and waited their turn to load. They were polite, laughing and it seemed whatever argument they had earlier was now over. My friend walked over to them and mentioned he had heard their earlier conversation. One boater bowed his head and said he "was a church going Christian but sometimes the devil gets in his mouth when he's boating." That never happens in Utah my friend told them to which the other boater said, "Yeah, well all you guys have is a salt lake so nobody's boating anyway." My friend walked over to the boater and said "Everyone boats in Utah; and we walk on the water too." I've seen those guys many times since and they always become silent when I go past. I think I know why.

– L. Lipscomb Ft. Lauderdale

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Here in the Dells, I was taking some friends from the office for a boat ride last August. They lived in Chicago and were visiting for a long weekend at my cabin. We'd had a great day on the water exploring rocky coves and watching deer and raccoons along the shore and trying some fishing with a cane pole that I kept in the boat (Sea Ray 18). We were coming into the ramp and I said I would get the truck and trailer while they stood in the water holding the boat. As I backed down the ramp I saw everyone scatter letting the boat drift back out into the river because of the offshore wind.

It turns out there was a huge black snake in the water and these guys from Chicago weren't going to lay claim to its territory. I didn't care so I went into the water and swam out to the boat and started the engine and came back to the ramp. These guys still wouldn't go near the water despite the fact I told them it was all clear. So I tie the bow to the trailer and get in the truck and back it down slowly and load the boat as if I were all alone (which if truth be told, I was). I yell to them everything is ready and come on over but they insist they are staying at the top of the ramp. So I drive to them, which is the very moment one sees another black snake (and it could have been the same but at this point it really doesn't matter) and they take off in a full sprint down the road away from me. I picked them up at the main highway. When we all got back to my cabin, a neighbor came by to ask how the fishing was and I just started laughing out loud. Needless to say, my friends from Chicago haven't been back to visit.

Michigan City, Indiana Municipal Ramp On Trail Creek

I was waiting for a friend to show up with his boat on a trailer at the public ramp along Trail Creek, which is about two miles from Lake Michigan. Our plan was to go out and spend the day fishing as we do every Tuesday. A boat came in to get hauled out and there's a guy and his wife or girlfriend. He starts yelling about keeping the boat at the pier and he'll back the truck down with the trailer and it's real clear he is upset about something. So off he goes to get the truck and the lady holds the boat alongside the dock. He starts backing down and totally screws up the procedure and he gets out of the truck and starts yelling at her to stop moving the boat. He goes forward, backs again and now the trailer slams into the wall on the other side of the ramp. Now he's really hot and he gets out of the truck again which is where I figured it's time to step in and stop something from happening.

That's when the lady gets out of the boat, ties the bow to the dock, storms over to the truck, gets in, pulls forward, backs the trailer right down the center of the ramp, gets out, moves the boat onto the trailer bunks, secures the winch cable to the bow, cranks the boat onto the trailer, gets in the truck and pulls forward to the top of the ramp where she secures the straps all within four minutes or so. The guy, meanwhile is standing along the wall dumbfounded. He walks over to the truck and that's when she pulls out of the municipal ramp with the boat in tow. I guess he walked home and to this day I wonder if she was there when he arrived.

Lake Lillnonah, Brookfield, Connecticut

One Sunday my family and I were taking our 23' Sea Swirl for a day on the water to celebrate my daughter Shannon's 14th birthday. The ramp is a state run facility that is fairly rustic and tucked into the woods off the main lake body. We were next in line behind a group of younger people using a brand new Nissan pickup 4x4 as a tow-vehicle to launch a 20' bowrider. As they were launching, I put my 1990 GMC 4x2 in position in the ready area to launch as soon as they were finished.

When the other driver attempted to move his truck and trailer off the ramp after the boat had been launched, it became clear that the driver was unfamiliar with driving a standard and that they had not used a wheel chock. The truck began to roll backwards until the doors of the truck were partially submerged. Another guy, apparently the truck and boat owner, jumped off the boat and climbed in the driver's seat through the window (he couldn't open the door due to the water level). He tried several times and even rolled further back into the lake but the truck would not even turn over, let alone start.

I couldn't take it anymore and told him to put the parking brake on and sit tight for a minute. I launched my boat next to his and had my wife Donna and 12 year old son Sean hold it on the adjacent beach. I aligned my truck with the trailer attached in front of the Nissan. I then paid out the cable from my power winch and attached it to a tow strap that had been attached to the front of the Nissan. After putting the Nissan in neutral and releasing the brake, I used the winch to pull the truck and trailer out of the water.

After opening the doors and letting the water drain out of the cab, the Nissan finally started. After profuse thanks from a thoroughly embarrassed truck owner, I was able to move my truck and trailer to the parking area and enjoy the day on the water.

As another boater said after the truck was pulled from the lake it was too bad no one had a video camera, it would have made a great commercial for GM. It reminded me of the Mercury/Cadillac commercial currently running on TV.

Boat Ramp on Wisconsin's River in Stevens Point

I'm new to launching so my first time at the ramp, I waited until everyone else had gone out before backing my trailer (I had practiced at the mall parking lot for a while before bringing my wife to the ramp for the real deal). As I was backing down the ramp, I noticed another fisherman coming in (it's a single-lane ramp) so I pulled back up to give him some room.

The guy walked past me stared and shook his head. My wife sensed what I was about to do and said "Don't, you're the new person so let the experts be the experts."

The guy backed his trailer down the ramp and proceeded to hit his boat being held by a crew member. He got out of the truck and started yelling about "Why would you hold the boat too close to the ramp, what's wrong with you," which of course was followed by a response "You keep telling me how experienced you are, why would you back too far and hit the boat?"

This went on for about five minutes and we continued to wait. The words got louder and soon they were doing the chest-to-chest routine.

"Don't," my wife said. I stayed in the truck and we waited some more.

They got the boat on the trailer after two tries and pulled up next to where we were waiting. The driver tied the boat down and stared at me again. I start backing down as his friend in the passenger side asked "need any help?"

I looked at my wife first. "Don't," she repeated.

"We're OK, thanks" I answered.

He smiled and pointed to the driver still at work on the tie-downs. "Good decision," He said.

Have you ever tried to back a trailer for the first time while laughing?

We did it OK.

Defeated Creek Marina on Cordell Hull Lake, Carthage, Tennessee

The Cullman, Alabama trailer boat club always makes an annual trip with about 9 boats. In 2004, one of the destinations was the Defeated Creek Marina in northeast Tennessee. The boats cruised 125 miles downstream to Nashville, spent two nights enjoying the music and the sites before returning to Defeated Creek. Little did they know how telling the marina name was going to be.

While backing a trailer with a 26' Cobalt down the steep ramp, one of the members sensed he was moving too fast and stepped on the brakes to slow down. He had disconnected all the tiedowns as well as the winch strap. The heavy boat's momentum was such that while the tow vehicle and trailer slowed down, the untethered boat kept going. It slid to a stop after leaving a trail of white gelcoat.

The group tried to push the boat into the water but even with the all-hands effort, they were unsuccessful. A decision was made to pad the ends of the trailer with cushions and back it gently into the hull to get the boat into the water. It worked.

To the manufacturer's credit, the boat was able to make the 125- mile trip to Nashville with no problem. Upon return to the ramp, the retrieval went much more smoothly. And nobody in the Cullman Alabama trailer group unhooks their winch strap before launching anymore.

Wading River, New York

It was a warm May day here on Long Island which means the air temperature was 75 but the water temperature of Long Island Sound was about 56.

My fishing partner and I were returning from a morning of fishing. As we were in the process of winching my boat on the trailer at Mt. Sinai, NY, a brand new SUV trailering a brand new 22" walk around backed onto the top of one of the ramps. The entire rig was a thing of beauty. Immediately the owner and his girlfriend got out. The young lady was absolutely gorgeous and attired in a bikini in keeping with the weather. All activity momentarily halted as she walked to the waters edge and, following the boyfriends instructions took hold of the bow line to the boat. The boy friend then proceeded to "powerlaunch" his new boat, which entails backing up as fast as he can and hitting the brakes as the trailer gets to the water.

Everyone, except two people there, immediately sensed what was about to occur. The SUV stopped, the trailer stopped and the boat kept going into the water. Everyone grimaced as the girl smiled sweetly at all of us yelling to let go of the line but ignored our shouted advice.

Well, the boat passed the girl, and several feet of bow line later the laws of physics that state a 110 pound person will not stop a 4000 pound boat at full roll took over, and we watched the young lady literally pulled off her feet right into the 56 degree water. Upon contact with the water, she let out a scream and a stream of invectives my partner said he had not heard since Parris Island in 1965.

Fortunately another boater pulled her into their boat, gave her a jacket and pulled the new boat back to the dock where the boyfriend was waiting with the most terrified look on his face. She said nothing as she walked past him and sat in the front of the SUV. He did not say a thing nor look up or around as he hooked up the boat to the winch, and reloaded the boat on the trailer and drove away.

The look on her face however, said everything.

Loni Anderson Boat Ramp, Jupiter, Florida

It had been one of those days for my buddy and his wife. Great day on the ocean, they had taken their limit of kingfish, oceanic tuna and sailfish on a spinrod. We both arrived at the boat ramp at the same time and noticed that the gentleman that had just retrieved his boat in front of my buddy had stopped at the top of the ramp. He got out of his tow vehicle, walked to the back of the boat and pulled the drain plug which let water run down the ramp and back into the Intracoastal. Well my buddy motions to the guy's friend who was with him to come on down the ramp for a conversation (which he does) and is asked if the next time they pull the plug, they pick a place that won't create traction problems for the folks who follow them (i.e. us). His reply was "whatever" and he walks back up to the tow vehicle and they drive away.

My buddy gets in his tow vehicle and backs down the ramp to retrieve his boat. He puts the truck in park, sets the emergency brake, chocks the front wheels, hooks up the winch cable and hits the switch on the electric winch. His boat gets half way up the trailer when suddenly the truck with chocked wheels, a set emergency brake and the gear in "park" slides down the ramp to the water's edge!After we stopped the slide, calmed down and investigated what had happened we learned the gentleman who had pulled his plug had actually drained his bilge which had a lot of 30 weight oil in the bottom of the boat.The next time we go boating, my buddy and have agreed to do like the race drivers do and "walk the track" checking for oil before launching and retrieving.

Minnesota Gas Station

A few years ago we were on our way to our favorite vacation spot. We stopped for gas at a small town in Minnesota. A young man who appeared to be about 13 or 14 years old came out of the gas station, and slowly walked around the boat several times. He was looking intently at the boat and trailer. I couldn't figure out what he was looking at. Finally he looked at me and said, "Is this your boat?"

I thought he was kidding. I replied, "It must be because it's been following us for 200 miles."

To which he said, "You mean you didn't know it was there?" Dumbfounded, I said, "That's why we stopped."

He then asked, "Are you going to keep it?" I told him, "Yes, I've gotten used to it over the last 3-4 hours." He shook his head and said, "I wish that would happen to me" and went back inside. To this day we still wonder about that kid.

– James Falk, Clive IA

Southhampton New York Boat Ramp

I took a lady I know out for a day on my Sea Ray last year. She isn't a boater, doesn't know how to swim, made sure she wore a PFD even before we ever got into the boat and was a little concerned about my idea of a day on the water. I guess you could call this a first date. She brought a picnic lunch and my plan was to take a ride over to Shelter Island and find a quiet beach. So as I back the truck down the ramp she asks with a hint of nervousness in her voice, "What are you doing?" I tell her this is how the boat gets in the water, we move the trailer into the water, untie the boat and it will float and we're on our way. "That's crazy," she tells me. "You have to go through all of this just to go out on a boat? On TV all the boats are parked in the water at a marina." I stopped the truck and looked at her. Sometimes, you just know. "You're right," I said. I put the truck in forward and we drove to a nearby state park and had lunch in the front seat of the truck. I took her home, dropped her off and was on the water by 4PM.


BoatUS Editors

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Award-winning BoatUS Magazine is the official publication of Boat Owners Association of The United States. The magazine provides boating skills, DIY maintenance, safety, news and more from top experts.